River Oaks Elementary host special education panel discussionIn observance of Autism Awareness Month, River Oaks Elementary School held a special education panel discussion to foster community engagement and raise awareness of the resources available to PWCS students with disabilities. During the discussion, panelists and parents talked about shared experiences, addressed the associated stigma, and spotlighted the array of resources available to students in the PWCS Special Education program. 

Speakers included an autism specialist, special education administrative coordinator, an autism teacher who is also the parent of an adult with a disability, and a PE teacher who has autism.   

During the panel discussion, Jonathan Stone, PE teacher, shared his personal story of being diagnosed with autism in high school and the challenges he overcame. Stone is passionate about helping students with disabilities and sharing his story to encourage them.  

“As an educator and former PWCS student diagnosed with autism, organizing this event is huge for me. It means the world to me to help students learn to cope with their disabilities and develop strategies to help themselves moving forward,” said Stone.   

Rose Francis, fifth-grade teacher, has an 18-year-old son with autism currently enrolled at Northern Virginia Community College. Francis said she appreciates the safe space the panel discussion provided.  

“Having a panel like this allows us to express our thoughts and discuss things we’re unsure of.  We get to share our experiences and learn from others who have different coping mechanisms that could really help our children,” said Francis.   

River Oaks plans to hold more special education sessions in the future.